The continuing series of features about extinct cars in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.
9: Colt 1400 Turbo – died out in 2003
Back in the late-1970s, the UK perception of Japanese cars was one of drudging trans-Atlantic conservatism. The mass-market cars being sold by Datsun and Toyota, for instance were utterly reliable, well equipped, slightly ornately styled and usually technically behind the European pace-setters. So where we had the FWD fluid-suspended Austin Allegro, or beautifully engineered and Italianately styled VW Golf, the Japanese fought back with the Toyota Corolla and Datsun Sunny. But the problem with general perception (as well as what the car magazines used to say), it wasn’t a true reflection of the reality of the situation.
For one – even back then, Japan built some of the most technically advanced family cars around. It’s just that they tended to be overshadowed by the orthodox ones. And where Datsun and Toyota dominated, taking the majority of their allocated market share in the UK (Japanese importers were limited to 12.5% of the new car arena), Honda, Subaru and Mitsubishi (or Colt as it was known in the UK back then) were left to pick up the crumbs. And that’s a shame as Honda’s Civic was as advanced as any supermini then available; Subaru’s range was flat-four powered and all-wheel drive to stand alone in the mid-market; and Mitsubishi’s Colt 1400 range was one of the most interesting cars available in the Golf class…
…and on the other side of the fence, us Europeans offered the truly dull Escort Mk2 and Vauxhall Viva. So it really was six of one, and half a dozen of the other.
The Colt 1400 (as the A150-generation Mitsubishi Colt or Mirage) was known in the UK went on sale in March 1979. Given its market penetration was always going to be capped, Mitsubishi did a good job of marketing the car offering it with generous equipment at a reasonable price.
The three- and five-door hatchback was agreeably styled, avoiding European ‘origami’ and Japanese ‘chintz’ to end up looking almost timeless. Initially only offered in GLX form with a free-spinning 1.4-litre ohc engine, the 70bhp hatchback made a number of friends within the media.
One memorable feature was its dual-range gearbox. Alongside the conventional four-speed shifter was a second lever offering ‘Power’ or ‘Economy’ – in effect a transfer lever offering high and now ratios, which you could swap between depending on your mood. The general consensus within the media was that it was a gimmick, and of absolutely no advantage over a standard five-speed gearbox. But never underestimate the power of marketing an ‘eight-speed’ gearbox.
In 1982, a turbocharged version was unleashed on the unsuspecting world. This was Colt’s entrant in the burgeoning GTI market, and like many of its contemporaries, such as the MG Metro and Renault 5, relied on forced induction to up the power. Engine capacity remained at 1410cc, but power was boosted to a more useful 105bhp, making it one of the faster entrants in the junior GTI set.
However, in a crowded market, dominated by the Ford Escort and Fiesta XR2/XR3, the MG Metros and Volkswagen Golf GTI, the perky little Mitsubishi didn’t really get a look in. The Colt Turbo failed to shine, and despite excellent build quality and a fair slice of showroom appeal, it sunk without a trace.
And since the 1400 Turbo, Mitsubishi’s showing on the performance car scene has been somewhat patchy. Its contemporary, the Lancer 2000 Turbo was also a bit of a commercial dud, but did come back in later years to become something of a cult in the form of the Lancer Evo. The Starion (named after the Star of Orion, okay?) fared better and was a strong player in the big coupé market – and is still seen as something of a cult car, even today.
The Colt Turbo’s replacements, however, failed to gain the same recognition. Who remembers the 1990s Colt GTI today? Or indeed the current car (which is actually a lot of fun to drive)?
And that’s probably why the short-lived 1982-1984 car doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. And that it’s as long ago as 2003 that the final 1400 Turbo shuffled off this mortal coil to the great scrapyard in the sky.
Unless of course, cars have been subsequently been brought in on the back of the J-Tin movement in recent years… We found out after the first In Memoriam piece on the Alfa Romeo ARNA that there is indeed at least one example left on the UK roads, as it won a concours award at the 2011 AROC national rally!